The regular season is all but over, and despite an All-NBA caliber season from All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, the Portland Trailblazers are looking at their second straight season of missing the NBA Playoffs.
With a record of 32-43, the Blazers are sitting well out of the playoff or even the Play-In hunt at 13th in the Western Conference. Because of this, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported a few days ago that the Blazers were discussing shutting Lillard down for the remainder of the season. So, with only seven games left, it feels safe to say that his season is officially over.
Unfortunately for Portland fans and their front office, this season’s struggles are stirring back up the #FreeDame chants. Television pundits, NBA legends, and especially Los Angeles Lakers fans are clamoring for the lead guard to take his talents to a situation better suited for a real run at an NBA championship.
But Damian Lillard made head waves earlier this season after his sit down with JJ Redick on the Old Man & The Three podcast for his takes criticizing ring culture and those misinterpreting his legacy. This marriage between the franchise and its superstar is here to stay.
But that does not absolve the Portland front office from their complete inability to put a legitimate championship-caliber core around Lillard for his entire career. Now the Blazers enter another offseason asking themselves: “Where did we go wrong?”
Let’s deep dive into Lillard’s insane season, where the Blazers missed their mark, and break down how things will only get worse.
To truly dissect all the bad, we must start by contextualizing some of the good. The good is that at age 32, Damian Lillard just had the best season of his career.
Through 58 games, Lillard finished as the third-highest scorer in the NBA with career-highs in points (32.2), two-point percentage (57.4%), and field goal percentage (46.3%). He finished fourth in usage percentage (33.8%) while still managing to average 7.3 assists (tied for the third-best of his career) and almost achieved the illustrious 50-40-90 season. For context, his field goal percentage is 3.7% short, and his three-point percentage is short by a mere 2.9%. But that’s just ranking this season up against himself.
What about how he stacks up against some of the other great point guards across the league? Lillard has the second-best true shooting percentage amongst point guards (64.5%) behind only Stephen Curry (66.0%). He had the third-highest player efficiency rating amongst point guards (27.01) behind only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (27.49) and Luka Doncic (29.40). He also is third amongst guards and fifth overall in free throw attempts with 9.6 per game.
These are typically the kind of statistical seasons that spark up MVP conversations and “who’s the best point guard in the league” debates. Yet neither of the major outlets like Fox Sports or the NBA Kia MVP ladder has him in their top five and Basketball Reference has him slotted firmly in the 10th spot behind players like Jimmy Butler who didn’t even make the All-Star game this season.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe even speculated on his podcast, The Lowe Post, that there is a possibility that he may not make any of the three All-NBA teams strictly due to the lack of team success. There aren’t too many seasons where an MVP-caliber guy misses the Playoffs and gets left off All-NBA. And especially not when you could make the statistical argument that they’ve been the best player at their position for the season.
This is where Portland dropped the ball. The Portland Trailblazers are currently the 7th youngest team in the NBA this season (average age of 24.78). And that’s despite their top three guys in Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and Jerami Grant, all being 28 and older. Here are the other six teams with an average age below 25:
– Charlotte Hornets – 24.60
– Memphis Grizzlies – 24.27
– Orlando Magic – 23.93
– San Antonio Spurs – 23.84
– Houston Rockets – 23.58
– Oklahoma City Thunder – 23.14 (Youngest team in the NBA)
Aside from Memphis Grizzlies and maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder, the rest of these squads are in a tank-off for Victor Wembenyama and a few pieces away from becoming perennial playoff contenders. That’s not the kind of team that you build around a player of the caliber of Damian Lillard. And with the way their contract books look this offseason, their flexibility to get any better is practically little to nonexistent.
Lillard is signed through his age 36 seasons with the price going up to 58.5 million in 2025-26 and a whopping $63.2 million in 2026-27 because of the most recent contract extension he signed. Then, of the Portland Trailblazers currently on this roster, only he, Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Shaedon Sharpe, Nassir Little, Kevin Knox, Keon Johnson, and Trendon Watford is signed through next season with fully guaranteed contracts.
With the players signed through next season, Lillard and Nurkic would be the only players on the roster above the age of 23.
Some notable names not on that list are Jerami Grant who is an unrestricted free agent this off-season as well as Cam Reddish and Matisse Thybulle. All three guys being players that Portland allocated drafted capital to acquire now could walk for nothing if a better situation presents itself. Or even worse, they could have to overpay just to retain them.
But even if they were to re-acquire Jerami Grant, wouldn’t they just be running back the team that underachieved by a significant margin this season? Simply meaning another passing year of trouble in paradise for the Blazers.
This situation is a representation of the “Treadmill of Mediocrity” in its purest form. The only way the team can commit to a full rebuild is if they unload their superstar player. But that superstar player also happens to arguably be the best in franchise history and does not want to leave.
It is very reminiscent of the final years of the late great Kobe Bryant’s career. A player that was honored by their franchise through a hefty payday, but with the repercussions of potentially setting the organization back by five to ten years. It’s a no-win situation for either side, leaving us as fans to watch yet another All-Star waste his prime with the possibility that we’ve seen the last of Damian Lillard playing in high-leverage postseason moments.
What a shame.
Hi there! My name is Jalon Dixon, but most people just call me Jay. As an aspiring, young sports writer and podcaster, I enjoy discussing sports (mainly basketball and football) and sharing my knowledge with others. Growing up right in the middle of Towson University, Morgan State, Goucher College and others, I have gotten the chance to learn so much about a handful of the different athletic teams that thrive here in Baltimore. I want to be the voice of local fans and teams that may not get the same spotlight as others, but still play a big part in our everyday lives. My motto is “Always Embrace Conversation,” so if you ever want to give me feedback on a piece or even just have a friendly sports debate, feel free to email me! Hope you enjoy my work and maybe even learn something along the way.